DCN 2011

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I hope every one had a productive 2010.  I wanted to take a minute to recap 2010.   As most of you are aware we had a very interesting 2010  with so many close calls.   As it turns out we had the third most active hurricane season on record with a record number of very serious storms narrowly missing the US.  In addition to these severe hurricanes, we also had the makings of some very serious Ice Storms which ended up becoming mainly snow and sleet events.  Many of these Ice Storms produced a lot of accumulation but were just short of causing very serious damage and power outages.  For many of you who are new to disaster response it can prove very difficult to predict the correct level of preparedness, as you can see from what happen in 2010.   For many first response companies you can end up spending a lot of time money and effort to respond to disasters that don’t come.  The irony of working in disaster response though is that you can have a year like 2010 where very few disasters produce major damage only to be followed by a year were you have three major hurricanes all making landfall and producing major damage.  It is for that reason that the disaster contractor can never let his guard down and always must keep his personnel in a state of readiness.  For many contractors this can be very hard as you have to find some way to keep your people busy and productive between disaster while continuing to be ready to drop everything and respond.  This has always proven to be a delicate balance for the serious disaster response company.  For those that succeed though it can be very rewarding.

On another note I would like to mention the serious snow storms we had this year.  These storms do not produce the types of damage that you typically see with a major disaster such as structural, and tree damage along with power outages.  These storms however can be very debilitating to cities and business who in some instances cause an entire economy to come to a standstill.  We call these type of events a economic disaster and for that reason cities and municipalities will work very hard to protect and mitigate against these types of disasters also.    We saw some very serious snow storms this year with record amounts of snow and very low temperatures.  Thankfully we did not have the loss of power in many of these storms.   Many people were stranded in areas and schools, businesses and travel had to be suspended.  I wanted to talk about this for a moment because many of our northern contractors will participate in this type of recovery work during winter months when their typical line of work has slowed down.   For us in the south we typically do not have a opportunity to perform these type of recovery projects.  For that reason I was very surprised when our phone rang one very cold night here in Atlanta.  It was the City of Atlanta asking how LMGC could assist in getting the city moving again.  I’m not saying we don’t ever get snow here but it tends to be rare and of small amounts not typically accumulating.  This year was a lot different we ended up working with the city for 6 solid days.   I know many of you are probably aware of the serious issues the city had from reports on CNN.  We had to really go to work to facilitate this operation as most equipment in the state was being used  in cities, counties and dot departments across the state.  However we were able to round up the needed DCN contractors and organize the appropriate response after several hundred phone calls.   In spite of many of the problems the city encountered with some of their less experienced contractors we received  a letter of appreciation from the City of Atlanta which our company was very proud of since we are not called on to remove snow very often.

Lastly I want to thank all of the DCN contractors who assist us in these recovery operations and thank you for following my blog and I hope it is helpful and informative.  I know for many of you 2010 was not especially busy. I hope the economy hasn’t been overwhelming financially and that everyone  is prepared and ready if we have a very different 2011 disaster season.

Ryan

ryan @lmgc.com

Hurricane IGOR looking to be the First CAT 5 Storm of the Season

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Today hurricane IGOR exploded into a Category 4 Hurricane one step below a category 5 which is considered to be the most severe.  The forecast shows that this storm could reach category 5 status as early as Wednesday September 14.  A storm of this magnitude is capable of causing catastrophic damage if it makes landfall.  The destruction from a storm of this strength will be both in extreme storm surge and flooding along with wind damage.  A Category 5 storm is capable of maintaining itself far inland doing damage not just at the coast.  At the coast many structures will be left damaged beyond repair and will require demolition.

Often times contractors will be involved in demolition activities at the coast and only the most well built structures can survive such a storm.  The first priority is to determine if the insurance company will completely condemn the structure or try to repair it.  Most insurance companies will be back logged in this type of disaster and contacting adjusters can be very difficult.  In any event farther inland contractors will be focusing on drying in and preventing further losses to houses that appear to be repairable.  This process consist of removing trees from structures, tarping the roof and removing all wet materials from the house and placing fans and dehumidifiers to prevent further damage and mold from taking hold.

Many of the Services will be performed prior to insurance adjusters arriving.  If adjusters can be contacted via phone and a claim number assigned they  will often authorize immediate repairs to prevent further losses.  Insurance companies will often dictate standard pricing for many repairs to help expedite the process and contractors should keep excellent paperwork and documentation so that all repairs can be reimbursed.  You will often need to have a accounting and administrative staff with you to help insure that all billing and paperwork can be maintained and timely submitted.  You should document as much as possible with pictures and other data to provide as much documentation as possible to the adjusters assigned to your cases.  Don’t be surprised if your adjuster changes mid stream,  this can be very common as many adjusters are brought in initially and then sent home later and their cases are reassigned.

It is common for power to take much longer to restore in a Cat 5 Storm along with curfews staying in affect longer for the most devastated areas be sure and carry generators to run all tools, as power probably won’t be available.  As far as accommodations they will be extra difficult due to many hotels also receiving damage and the huge influx of out of town contractors along with displaced residents.  You will often need to set up tents or bring in trailers to house your workers if you plan to stay more long term.

I worked in Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and lived there and assisted with the clean-up for almost a year.  That was a Cat 5 Storm and in some areas it took up to 6 months for power to be reestablished as the grid was almost completely destroyed.  Many areas in Florida are now using cement poles which is helping and restore times have improved but it still can be lengthy so have generators.  Also remember to bring fuel as you probably won’t be able to obtain it locally.

I hope this has been helpful in preparing for and working in a Cat 5 Storm.

Disaster Contracting and Insurance Companies

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As you probably know Hurricane seasons most active months are August and September.  If you are planning on working a major storm clean-up this year for the first time here’s a few things to keep in mind.  If you have a opportunity to partner with a more experienced firm this can be an excellent way to gain experience at first.  If you are planning on going it alone you will need to decided to subcontract from another firm that has contracts in place or to try to land your own.  Many contractors will work with other contractors as a  sub-contractor.  This can be a excellent way to gain experience if you don’t have a contract in place.  However if you decide to go after you own contracts here are a few important things to keep in mind.

Insurance companies are often a big part of the recovery money that will be spent to repair and recover.  If you are working on residential properties you will often find yourself working with insurance companies to resolve claims.  Contractors that are new to storm work are often confused about how insurance companies work.  One of the most important things to know is that insurance companies will rarely pay the contractor directly.  When you do work the adjuster will often meet you and approve the work before you can start.  Once it comes time to pay however the check is almost always written to the insured and requires a signature from the mortgage company.  You can find yourself waiting several weeks for the funds to make it through the system.  Very few clients are willing or able to pay for expensive repairs prior to receiving insurance funds.  You should be prepared to finance your operation for a month prior to expecting to start seeing money flowing from insurance work.

Additionally always make sure you have a written contractual agreement in place with the homeowner or property owner.  Do not rely on any verbal agreements to do the work from the insurance company or its representative.  The property owner is your client and the insurance company is under no legal obligations to the contractor.  The client is the legal party that must make payment for the services you provide.  It is not advisable to make contracts basing payment on the client being reimbursed from the insurance company.  Keep in mind deductibles and coverages vary greatly from policy to policy and are constantly changing.  You should come to an agreement with the property owner about the services you will provide and the cost.  The property owner will be responsible for paying for those services in the end.  Often times a property owners claim encompasses much more than the services you provided.  The claim can be tied up for a long time if the adjuster and the property owner don’t agree on the settlement amount.  If this occurs you can find yourself waiting on payment until the parties reach an agreement and the claim is paid.  Therefore keep in mind that if you agree to wait for the property owner to receive payment you may find yourself waiting a few months if the offer is disputed.

These are a few things you can learn in the school of hard knocks if you venture out with out experience.  So be sure to let your estimators know exactly what you are prepared to agree to.  If you are not careful your estimators may agree to things with the property owners that you will not be happy  living up to.  It can be a real strain on your finances if you find yourself waiting on a lot of money to be paid on projects that you have already paid all of the expenses on.  Any way I hope those pointers will be helpful.  If you are interested in sub-contracting with some of the Veteran General Contractors contact jessica @treeservice.com for info on becoming a DCN member.

Hurricane Season 2010 set to produce Severe Storms.

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Federal forecasters  called for an “active” to “extremely active” hurricane season this year, with anywhere from 14 to 23 named storms.  June is usually relatively quite as hurricanes go but not this year.  Hurricane Alex was the strongest June hurricane in over 44 years.  In addition to that the Gulf’s surface temperatures are the hottest on record since record keeping began in the 1850’s.  Russia has apparently broke a record for the hottest day  at 111.2 degrees F.  In addition it has been predicted based on weather patterns that we would have a active to extremely active storm season.  Any time you have a 115 mph hurricane it is serious and we have already encountered that in June.  I am feeling strongly that we will see a Cat 5 storm this year.  Predicting its location and if it will make landfall  is anyone’s guess.  In light of the surface water temperatures I will be very surprised though if we don’t see at least one extremely sever storm.

If you are intending to travel and work a catastrophe response project it is important that you prepare in advance.  We will generally see major storm activity in August and September although we could have one sooner this year as the stage seems to be set for anything.  As I have discussed in previous post don’t wait till the last minute to make preparations.  It is also a good thing to speak with your crews and employees about traveling so that everyone is on the same page when it comes time to go.  When and were a storm makes landfall are impossible to predict at this point other than to say chances are better than normal for one due to current conditions.  For that reason you should prepare for possibile travel to the Gulf or East Coast and make calculations on the farthest point of travel from your location, so as to estimate possible traveling and mobilization cost.

Many contractors will wait to the last minute to make dicisions and preperations wich generally will lead to extra stress and complications.  Additionally you will need to think about any preparations for handling and servicing your ongoing customers at home in your absence.  You will often find it better not to take every crew out of town if you have many ongoing clients.  Remember you will at some point need to return to those customers and they may not be pleased if they have to wait for your return.

As more storms appear on the horizon I will update this disaster blog in the coming weeks.  If this season will be your first or you need assistance with DCN membership feel free to speak with Jessica @TreeService.com for assistance or advice on opportunities.  He is in communication with contractors around the country weekly and stays in the know about many whats going on around the country.

Disaster Contracting Gulf Oil Spill Update

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This environmental disaster in the Gulf continues to unfold and has proven considerably more complicated to contain than was initially thought by the experts.  As a career disaster contractor I can tell you from experience that disaster recovery operations never go as well in the field as they do on paper.  BP the oil industry and the government have the best and most experienced experts from around the world working on stopping the leak to no avail so far.  There have been 5 failed attempts to contain the leak to every one’s dismay.

In the disaster contracting world we often talk to clients about the importance of disaster preparedness and contingency plans.  It always proves hard to convince government agencies, private or public companies to devote the needed resources to be prepared in advance of a situation.  This oil spill is a perfect example of how industry and Government tend to believe they have done enough due dillegence to be prepared.  As we can see the oil companies and the Government proved to be vastly unprepared to deal with a situation of this type.  According to the information released by the government and the oil industry this type of disaster was reported to be virtually impossible.  They claimed that virtually every possible scenario had been anticipated and prepared for.  The reality how ever was that not nearly enough thought and preparation had been done to respond to this event and the extreme response tactics that it would require.  This in a way is proving to be a sort of fire drill to find out what really is needed to respond and handle this type of event, the only problem is they waited for the real event to test their plans.  This is a typical scenario where the expenditure of resources to be prepared for unknown event at and unknown location at a unknown time rarely can bolster enough emotion for governments and companies to spend resources to be properly prepared.

When you look back with hindsight a company can easily see where the preparation would have been considerably cheaper than the alternative to be under prepared.  This should serve as a lesson to all those looking on that disasters are real and can effect everyone.

As far as the recovery and containment effort is progressing I want to report what we know up till now.  I have been in contact with BP and Government officials in Louisiana since this whole ordeal started.  I have also traveled to  Louisiana to BP’s  incident command location in Houma.  We are continuing to work on recovery and response solutions and are expecting BP and and Governments focus to shift to oil recovery and environmental restoration of areas affected once the leak has been sealed.  Every ones current focus seems to be on stopping the leak at the source.  We are still focused on the recovery side of this event once that gets underway in earnest.  There is some concern though about the complications that hurricane season will cause to the entire operation and that is becoming the second part of the wild card at this point.  Hurricane forecasters have predicted a active to extremely active season with 14 to 23 named storms.

At this point it is anyones guess is to what exactly will be the end outcome but we are continuing to prepare our resources to aid the Government and BP in the onshore recovery efforts.   We are actively watching and planning how a hurricane in the Gulf will affect and complicate our Response.

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Emergency Response

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This environmental emergency has been evolving in the Gulf of Mexico since Tuesday April 20, 2010 when a drilling rig owned by Transocean  caught fire and sank off the coast of Louisiana.  Transocean is one of the largest contract drilling companies in the world.  They apparently had been hire by BP British Petroleum to perform these drilling operations on a BP owned lease in the Gulf.  Unlike most other spills this leak will continue until it can be stopped at the source.  To further complicate the matter the blowout preventer either failed to activate or only partly activated.  Basically everything that could go wrong has including rough sees and strong winds causing the response efforts to be complicated.  In light of all that has happened and the fact that the leak has not been stopped we are definately going to see a major environmental land impact and subsequent recovery.  The location of this spill could not be worse affecting one of the most populated and economically diverse coast lines in the US.  The Mississippi delta area is one of the most important and fragile ecosystems and fisheries we have in the US.  This area has so many swamps, islands, estuaries, and inlets etc. that if the oil invades this region the clean-up will be more complicated and costly than any ever undertaken.

What should we Do?  The cost of the clean-up is only part of the issue.  If this oil is not contained a complete environmental recovery becomes impossible.  It can not be totally removed once it has leached deep into sediment over a large geographical area.  Time is of the essence in responding to this type of event.  The cost to clean up this event will certainly triple or quadruple if missteps are made on the front side and if resources  are mismanaged and unorganized.  The experience and dedication of all teams involved along with leadership and creativity to overcome will be essential.  Money and resources won’t be enough to solve this environmental emergency.  The resources on the ground will have to hit the ground running and we don’t have time to anticipate we have to prepare for the worst case which really has already happened.  Once this oil begins to reach sensitive areas of the coast we have to attack it immediately.  This is the most important thing we can do to reduce our cost of cleaning  it up and reduce its permanent affects for our Gulf Coast.  Those resources of men, equipment, and management, need to be put at location now  and daily training and evaluation of our effectiveness will be essential.  Our managers must have access to instantaneous and useful communication and a reduced data feed back loop in order to expedite a timely response.

No one can predict all the consequences of this event, we have to do all we can to reduce and diminish it effects for everyones sake.  It is not the time to call blame or to start the bad PR machine we have to pull together to stop the flow of oil and clean up what has escaped.  The process of examining what went wrong will take place in time.  Priority one is to address the current and ongoing situation.   If you are a DCN member and  have resources and experienced manpower available to send for at least 90 days email us a detailed list of what you can provide.  We need to know what you can send and have on sight within 24hrs of a call to you.  email to coastalresponse@lmgc.com  We have worked every major disasters in Louisiana and are monitoring this event closely.  In the event our services are requested we will need to mobilize  management and recovery personnel immediately.  We will keep you informed as we find out more.

Ryan Lombardo

Disaster Contracting 101

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Disaster Contracting is a important and necessary service.  As many of the more experienced contractors are aware the US encounters hundreds of disasters annually.  Typical causes of natural disasters are hurricanes, landslides, severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, wildfires, floods, Ice storms, and earthquakes.  Disruption and economic impact caused by these disasters can vary greatly depending on the type and intensity of the disaster.  Some factors that often effect a disasters affects are size of the event, intensity, location, type, and amount of human infrastructure affected.   Recovery efforts and resources needed to respond to a disaster can be hard to predict and plan for.  These disasters are never totally predictable and their location and intensity make it very difficult to prepare for every situation.

Contractors who do disaster recovery work often struggle to maintain a state of readiness.  A good disaster response plan requires a lot of thought  and pre disaster preparations.   Many times contractors who lack experience in disaster contracting greatly underestimate all of the details that make for a successful response plan.  I want to take a minute to discuss some things you need include in any company storm readiness plan.  First decide what type of resources you have available to use in the recovery work.  You need to take inventory of everything you can spare from your regular work load at home.  If you have made major construction commitments at home it can greatly limit your resources available to help at a disaster.   As a company if you can not let any of your equipment or resources go due to prior obligations and deadlines for projects at home you will need to put rental agreements and other contingencies in place.  Keep in mind if you are planning on renting equipment at your destination it is highly unlikely it will be available.  Also many rental equipment companies will not allow you to take equipment across state lines.  If you are planning to travel with equipment rented from your home base remember to discuss this with the rental company in advance.  If you do travel with rented equipment from your home location keep in mind that any equipment issues will not be fixed since you have taken the equipment out of the area.  In addition you will not be able to trade equipment that goes down with another piece since you rented it hundreds of miles away.  You will likely be responsible for rental fees even if the equipment goes down on you since you can’t return it till you return home and the equipment is in your possession while inoperable.  These are just a few of the nightmares you can encounter managing equipment and logistics of traveling outside of your home base to assist in the recovery efforts.

Once you arrive at the location you will have to determine how to keep your equipment and trucks fueled.  Most stations will typically have lost power and fuel deliveries will often be limited.  Depending on your fuel requirements you may need to schedule fuel deliveries.  Some contractors will bring fuel in containers you will have to check with local regulations before transporting fuel.  Certain permits may be required depending on type and quantity of fuel you are transporting.

Accommodations will typically be unavailable in any close proximity to the disaster.  Most of the local residence who have damaged homes in addition to thousands of power company crews and many hotels themselves may be damaged.  It is always important to consider the working conditions heat or cold.  You should always be prepared to sleep where ever possible and bring appropriate clothes for heat or cold and sleeping bags.  It can often be counter productive to travel 100 miles each morning and evening to find hotels so you and all crew members should come prepared to sleep in vehicles or tents.

Food is another major consideration,  lines to resturaunts can be hour wait times minimum.  With power out to the town the few resturants open will often be feeding most of the town.  You will need to bring enough food for the entire company for at least a week.  Your crew members will be dealing with long work hours and marginal conditions.  It is important that all members traveling in as first responders are well trained as to what to expect and mentally prepared.  Curfew and martial law are almost always in affect immediately after a major disaster and you will not be allowed to move around after dark.  Most disasters will be under lock down by national guard in attempts to prevent looting.  Be prepared to get to a stopping point by dark and be settled with all needed provisions.

As you can see there are more details to consider than can be discussed in one article.  But it is important to remember at least the basics before jumping in your truck as a beginner and traveling to a disaster to help.  If you do that you could instead add to the problem.  Other quick things to remember all company vehicles and equipment should be clearly marked and identified for authorities and all personnel should have company issued identification identifying them and their position.  It can be very hard to learn all the things you need to know to work disasters becuase the experience is hard to come by.  If you are on the road working a disaster one month per year it can take you 12 years to gain a years worth the experience in the field.  For this reason if you are new to disaster contracting it is very advisable to work a few years with a established disaster contractor first and learn the ropes before heading out on your own.

Ryan

ryan @lmgc.com